One thing you learn after living outside the United States for awhile is that other countries do not fetishize soldiers and military service quite like Americans do, their cultures being nowhere near as militarized. Televised sporting events, for instance, do not begin by saluting the brave men and women abroad helping kill poor foreigners for Our Freedom. Uniformed military personnel aren’t used to sell shitty beer at half time. The armed forces aren’t billed to potential recruits as a more glamorous version of ITT Tech.
In the land of the free, by golly, we sure do love The Troops, don’t we? We Americans salute their service even as a solid majority of us concede that the war in Iraq was, if not a grave crime, at least a mistake — oops! we just killed a couple hundred thousand A-rabs — and agree that the occupation of Afghanistan is a waste of (American) lives and money.
This love is curious for a nation that likes to bend over and blow itself for being the world’s most free and ruggedly individualistic. And it’s dangerous: how many people have chosen to become the American empires hired guns because they were led to believe it was a just and honorable profession?
It’s not, mind you, that I think we ought to shout “baby killer!” and hock a loogie at anyone in uniform — generals and recruiters, sure — but neither should we heap praise on those who have chosen a profession that just in the last couple decades has asked them to kill people in at least a half-dozen unjust wars from Panama to Pakistan. That decent, upstanding men and women sometimes join the military and become part of the evil enterprise of empire should be lamented, not lauded, lest other impressionable young people come to the conclusion that there’s any honor in mass murder.
But I’ve said this before. Humor me this holy Veterans Day and check out some of my past writings on the topic of America’s wars and the saluting of the rank-and-file soldiers who make them possible:
— “That anti-patriotic feeling“: It is said that soldiers don’t decide the policy, they just follow orders. Fair enough. But is suspending one’s conscience in the service of an immoral act a praiseworthy move?
— “On ‘supporting the troops’“: The U.S. women’s soccer team took time during a recent match to, literally and rather creepily, the American troops in attendance for their “service.” But their service isn’t an abstraction, so shouldn’t the decision to salute them be based on the reality of what it actually entails?
— “‘Unconditional’ allegiance is for machines, not people“: Liberal blogger Adam Serwer says we “should support servicemembers unconditionally because their service is unconditional.” I call bullshit.